Writing about Literature

Galena Park ISD AP student workshop

9 Nov 2013

Craig White's UHCL Literature coursesite



Outline for presentation:

1. What is literature? How and why do we write about it? What is the difference between what we read and what we write? (40 minutes)

2. Introduction to American Immigrant Literature, course objectives,  and Midterm1 Assignment (15-20 minutes)

[break + read sample midterms] > 10:20

3. Discussion of student sample midterms (30+ minutes)

4. Even if you don't major in Literature, what value? (15+ minutes)







1. What is literature? How and why do we write about it? What is the difference between what we read and what we write? (40 minutes)


Creative Writing: fiction, poetry, plays > autobiography, personal narratives, personal essays, films, graphic novels, computer games, hyperfiction

Critical Thinking: analysis, essay, position paper; essay as argument, court case

Other terms for critical writing you'll see in college: rhetoric, composition, writing


expository writing or exposition (explaining, describing)


Creative Writing


entertain and educate

narrative as sequence or code of symbols



Poe, "Annabel Lee"

Shakespeare, Hamlet (selections)

Katherine Anne Porter, "The Grave"


Creative Writing, as imitation of reality, unfolds naturally in time, series or sequence of events: First this, then this, finally that.

Love, heartbreak, memory.

represents (immediacy) > vicarious experience, feel like you're there



Critical Thinking

Thesis, topic sentences, transition

unity, continuity, and transition


Critical Writing / expository writing: unfolds in more complex or abstract organizations; begins not with an event or emotion but an idea, thesis, theme

critical writing refers (distance) > detachment, evidence, judgment (cf. lawyer making case in court)

critical distance, power of ideas over reality

essays, like creative writing, reflect, shape, or interpret reality


Everyone can tell a story, narrate a sequence of events. Can you organize events or data into ideas?


Examples > genres

The Onion > A.V. Club

Onion alt

Onion alt2

subject, genre > theme / thesis



Constitutive differences:

Creative Writing: represents or creates an imitation of reality (action, mood) (mimesis); conflict > resolution

Critical Thinking: refers to a shared reality or part of reality; comments on what already exists


Organizational differences:

Creative Writing: usually a narrative, chronological sequence (imitates normal time)

Critical Thinking: prioritizes idea over matter, facts, examples; not chronological sequence but analytic patterns like cause-and-effect, comparison-contrast, conflict-resolution



Why write about Literature?

"Use your words!" < larger units of words

almost nothing else of past survives

schools / universities built around writing, literature

literary people can only write or teach writing

not dangerous like engineering

> critical thinking; practice

processing knowledge, input, debate, difference > take positions, action

techniques of creative and critical writing overlap

good news: language improves with practice

As a young person, the world or reality is more or less a given, feels like nature, the way things have always been, a few crucial themes or ideas organize it

As you age, you discover how much our reality is something we've built, designed, adapted to nature--something we can break but also something we can reshape and redesign.




2. Introduction to American Immigrant Literature, course objectives, and Midterm1 Assignment (15-20 minutes)


Introduction to American Immigrant literature

High schools studying literature much as I studied it in 1968

10th grade / sophomores: World Literature, esp. Western epic, drama, mythology +- non-Western literature

11th grade / juniors: American Literature

12th grade / seniors: English / British Literature


some national emphasis, but also idea of great literature as timeless, transcending history--even though it's old, we can still relate.


Recent literary studies reflect how much world has changed since 1968

 more multicultural, global, and historical (not timeles



3. Discussion of student sample midterms (30 minutes)

Questions for discussion

Which parts are working and why?

How do the essays keep you reading? How does their writing both entertain and inform?

What balance between formality and informality? Between third-person references to literature and first-person references to "I" or "my experience?"

How much is talent? How much is technique?


Noyes essay medium

Noyes essay large


Rea essay medium

Rea essay large


Noyes Midterm1 comments: Thanks for an excellent essay, Dorothy, now posted to the Model Assignments. Its greatest pleasure and instruction came from how you kept bringing the two identities of minority and immigrant together for consideration, then separating them in recognition of significant differences.

Not to suggest I could do so well, but like you I prefer that kind of cycle to simply posing differences. Alas, hard experience taught me that such a cycle often only confuses the larger part of a classroom. Therefore, at risk of becoming “a divider not a uniter,” I concentrate on explaining differences as a baseline of comprehension that everyone should be able to reach—and from which a few students can launch to more complex formulations. Which sounds like poor me, but good for you and for your reader for taking an extra step up.


Rea Midterm1 comments: Your midterm1 essay was far from problem-free, Cassandra, but it did a lot of things right, especially in terms of covering and comprehending essential course materials, plus writing with some real feeling that our identities matter.

With some necessary corrections made, I posted your essay to our Model Assignments and look forward to seeing more of your work, preferably with some kinks worked out. I corrected the spelling of Anzia mentioned in a previous email and provided the title that was required of all essays—don’t forget: all essays need titles. In your final paragraph you left out a “not” and used the wrong words (mind for find, if for of), all of which I corrected for the posting, but geez. These are issues you show the ability to handle on your own, so for future submissions please take time to review and edit, since your grade would otherwise have been at least an A-.

The one other improvement I meant to mention, now that all those surface issues are disposed of, is the ends of your paragraphs. When you end a paragraph, try to come out on the main point that you’re developing and relate it to your overall thesis or theme. As it was, your paragraphs often ended on a minor point relevant only to the issue being covered in that paragraph, which is not exactly wrong but weak. The ends of your paragraphs are where you return your reader to the mainstream or central theme of your essay.

This note sounds grumpier than I mean—mostly just a lot of details. There was a lot to like in your essay, only I had to spend all my note explaining what went wrong. You’re a gifted writer and a good soul. I’ll be glad to help as I can.




4. Even if you don't major in Literature, what value? (15 minutes)

What value to reading great literature?

What value to writing about it?


Creative Writing

For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov

depth or internality vs. surface / screen of electronic media


Critical Thinking / Writing

argue a point, reach agreements

democracies require literate populations

Socrates, Plato, Aristotle all posited that a citizen must be able to deliberate, reason, analyze, listen to or read others

in public schools, English teachers manage differences, find a way forward.








How much work goes on when you write an essay, what you have to get right


Galena Park Independent School District 

14705 Woodforest Blvd.

Houston, Texas 77015


(LITR 4333 Model Assignments)